More in the same vein

So along with love and laughter, let us add paradox and ambiguity to our armory. It is nowhere near as easy to distinguish the mystic from the nihilist as I implied a moment ago. Paul Celan may be our best 20th-century witness to this ambiguity:

Praised be your name, no one.
For your sake
we shall flower.
Towards
you.

Gelobt seist du, Niemand.
Dir zulieb wollen
wir bluhn.
Dir
entgegen.

–“Psalm,” translated by Michael Hamburger (Poems of Paul Celan, Persea Books, 1995, 178/179). The whole poem is available elsewhere on the web, in an inferior translation. Keep in mind that Celan was Jewish, had lost both his parents in the holocaust, and wrote in the language of their destroyers — or, in fact, invented his own German, according to Hamburger’s introduction. “The seemingly negative theology of his great poem ‘Psalm’ has been shown to have antecedents in both Jewish and Christian mysticism, and Celan is known to have been well versed in both . . . Celan’s religion — and there can be no doubt as to his profoundly religious sensibility, whatever he may have believed or not believed — had to come to grips with the experience of being God-forsaken.” (31).

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